There’s not much to say about this one. The game itself anyway.
The Bulls continue to beat the stuffing out of bad teams. The Nets (8-18 overall and 3-8 at home) were bad to begin with. To make matters worse, they were without Brook Lopez, Damion James, Mehmet Okur, MarShon Brooks and DeShawn Stevenson due to various injuries, and Anthony Morrow missed the game due to the death of his grandmother.
As a result, New Jersey dressed only nine players and trotted out a starting lineup of Deron Williams, Kris Humpries, Shawnee Williams, Shelden Williams and our old friend Keith Bogans. Not surprisingly, the Bulls were up 35-14 after the first quarter, by which point the proceedings were pretty much over. The rest of the game was played only because David Stern has yet to institute a slaughter rule.
The Bulls shot 55.6 percent, racked up 29 assists, and led by as many as 32 points.
Carlos Boozer led the team in scoring (24 points on 9-for-13 shooting) while chipping in 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Luol Deng (19 points) continues to shoot so well (8-for-14 including 3-for-5 on threes) that I half-wondered if I just dreamed up his wrist injury. Joakim Noah grabbed 12 boards and dished out 5 assists, Ronnie Brewer scored a dozen points and C.J. Watson came off the bench to contribute 14 points and 11 assists in 39 minutes.
Why did C.J. log so much PT? Because Derrick Rose played less then 11 minutes before leaving the game with back spasms.
The big question: How serious is Derrick’s back injury?
Said Rose: “I feel all right, just back spasm. It’s nothing to worry about. Tomorrow we have a day off and I’ll get treatment,” Rose said. “I’ll get a massage and hopefully I can play the next game.”
Now, I’m not a professional basketball player. I don’t have a team doctor, or trainers, or a personal massage therapist. But I play pickup ball two or three days a week and I occasionally get back spasms. They aren’t dangerous in the way, say, a knee or ligament injury are. But they’re still debilitating. One time last year, on the way from the train station to my office building, it took me more than 10 minutes to make it two blocks. And that was walking like an old man who had been beaten with a stick. I couldn’t even stand up straight.
I can’t imagine trying to play NBA basketball like that.
The only real cure for something like back spams is rest. Something in there needs to heal. Could take a few days. Could take a week. Could take a couple weeks. Who knows?
The Bulls may be able to afford giving Rose a little time off. They’re a league-best 21-6, they’re 4-2 on their current nine-game road trip, and their next two games are against awful teams (the Hornets on Wednesday and the Bobcats on Friday). The team could probably let him rest and rehab until the final game of the road trip on Sunday in Boston.
But hey, I’m not the one making decisions.
All I know is that the post-lockout schedule has sent the league’s injury rate through the roof. New York’s Carmelo Anthony and the Clippers’ Chauncey both got injured last night. And, as I mentioned, almost half of New Jersey’s roster missed the game due to injury. Rip Hamilton’s still out and there’s no indication whatsoever when he’ll return. So on and so forth.
All I’m saying is: Why risk Rose’s health against the Hornets and Bobcats?
As an aside, I’m really glad the Bulls are playing so well, but I’m hoping to see them put together a solid effort against one of the league’s better teams some time soon. They currently rank 25th in strength of schedule, and I keep having this uncomfortable feeling like they’re padding their record against lesser teams. The Celtics have been on something of a hot streak lately, so that Sunday game could be a good test of where the Bulls are at.
Hopefully, Derrick’s back is feeling better by then.
The New Jersey crowd went nuts for the White Mamba! Brian Scalabrine gets cheers pretty much everywhere. Last night was special, because he spent four years on the Nets.
Said Kyle Korver: “So there’s three incredibly loud cheers every game that you can count on. The first one is when the doughnut races the coffee races the bagel and everyone swears they pick the coffee. The reality is not everyone picked the coffee, but everyone cheers like they picked the coffee. Two is when we score 100 points and everyone gets a free Big Mac or whatever they get. And three is when Scalabrine comes in the game. Guarantee, every single game, the crowd goes nuts no matter where we’re at.”
Nets Injury Report:
Marshon Brooks: out indefinitely
Damion James: out for season
Brook Lopez: out 4-6 weeks
Anthony Morrow: will miss tonight’s game against Chicago (personal)
Mehmet Okur: will miss at least one week (back spasms)
DeShawn Stevenson: will miss at least two weeks (sore right knee)
Chicago has a pretty easy schedule this week, starting with the Nets tonight. The Bulls will play New Jersey, New Orleans and Charlotte between now and Friday. Even though all of these games are on the road, they have a day in between each…and they aren’t against very good teams.
Just two weeks ago the Bulls beat the Nets 110-95 in the United Center. The oft-injured Rip Hamilton, who won’t play tonight, scored 22 points to go along with ten assists. Derrick Rose scored 22 points, had five rebounds and eight assists. Joakim Noah went for 16 points and ten rebounds, while Carlos Boozer scored 14 points on 6-9 shooting.
For the Nets, Jordan Farmar scored 22 points on 7-9 shooting coming off the bench. Deron Williams and Anthony Morrow both scored 14 points on 7-14 shooting. Williams had ten assists as well.
The Bulls were clicking on all levels. They shot 57.3 percent from the field, had eleven more rebounds and ten more assists than the Nets.
It will be a little different for the Bulls tonight. Rip Hamilton will probably be out, while Luol Deng will be back in the line-up.
Chicago looked really good in their first game back with Deng, beating Milwaukee Saturday night. Rose had another great game, scoring 26 points and dishing 13 assists. Deng looked good, scoring 21 points (9-19 from the field) and tied for a game-high with nine rebounds. Deng did miss some easy lay-ups, but it is just positive that he can play through the pain. Noah narrowly missed another double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Kyle Korver was extremely hot off the bench going 4-8 from three and 7-13 from the field to finish with 18 points. He also added six rebounds and three assists.
The Nets are coming off of a loss to the Knicks on Saturday. Williams scored 21 points to go with eleven assists, Kris Humphries scored 20 and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Farmar went for 19 off the bench. The Nets were out-rebounded by nine though, and got destroyed by Jeremy Lin. Lin recorded 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists as well as gaining a ton of new fans and blowing up Twitter.
New Jersey has won just three games at home this season. Those wins were against Golden State, Charlotte and Detroit.
The return of Keith Bogans: The Bulls will see Keith Bogans tonight, but thankfully he will be in a Nets jersey. If you can’t find him, he is probably standing like a statue behind the three point line. That’s where he’s always been.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “He said he felt fine. He was good in practice. We’re encouraged by that.”
Thibs is answering questions because Deng is not. Luol said he doesn’t want to keep talking about the injury. And, really, what’s the point? It hurts. He can play through it. And it probably won’t get better until after the season when he has time for it to fully heal (possibly after surgery).
What more is there to say?
It’s funny. Prior to last season, many Bulls fans questioned Deng’s worth and (especially) his toughness. Often times, he was unfairly targeted for criticism due to his large contract, the team’s lack of playoff success, and a few unfortunate injuries that forced him to miss long stretches of games in consecutive seasons.
But with the minutes he logs, the productivity, and the pain he plays through, I think that “overrated and soft” tag has been dispelled about as thoroughly as it could be.
As for the wrist, it remains to see how that will affect him going forward.
On the subject of injuries to key players, Derrick Rose is a little banged up.
In addition to his ongoing turf toe injury, Rose’s back has been acting up. During the Bucks game, Rose could be seen laying on his back getting stretched out by one of the team trainers.
Said Rose: “My back tends to get tight a little bit. That’s why my shots were kind of flat. But I know after tonight and the day off [Sunday], I’ll get my back worked on and that should be out the way quick. It just got tight on me and that can easily go away.”
Despite the tightness, Rose participated in most of Sunday’s practice.
Said Thibs: “He has a little bit of stiffness. He said he will be fine.”
Bucks Injury Report:
Andrew Bogut: broken left ankle
In what is undoubtedly the biggest game in any sport this weekend, the East-leading Bulls head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks.
The question is which Bucks team will show up. Will it be the one that has beaten the Miami Heat twice this season, or will it be the team that lost to Detroit last night.
On Wednesday Brandon Jennings scored 31 points (7-14 from three) and added eight assists and four steals to help lead Milwaukee past the Heat. Milwaukee finished that game on a 17-1 run.
But their next time out they lost to the Pistons. Brandon Jennings scored 20 points (7-19 from the field, 3-10 from three) with one assist and three turnovers. The rest of the team went 0-7 from three to finish 3-17 (17.6 percent) from behind the arc. Jennings and Shaun Livingston (14 points) were the only Bucks in double figures.
Rookie point guard Brandon Knight scored 26 points and added seven assists to lead the Pistons. As a team, the Bucks shot 35.1 percent and only recorded 10 assists. Not quite the game you would expect from a team that has already beaten Miami twice. And their coach wasn’t happy about it.
“We were terrible in every aspect of the game,” Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. “Our effort was horrible — as bad as I’ve seen since I’ve been here — and our execution was very poor on both ends of the floor. We’ve played two good quarters out of the last eight. The other six have been pitiful.”
Tonight will be a back-to-back for Milwaukee and also the third game in four nights. The Bucks were 10-14 last season with no rest and are 2-5 so far this season.
Chicago beat the Bucks just a little more than a week ago. Rose scored 18 in the second half of that game, to drop a game high 34. The Bulls’ bigs had great games. Carlos Boozer went for 20 and 13, while Noah had 15 points and 16 rebounds.
As good as some of the Bulls were, Ronnie Brewer had a really bad game. He went 2-13 from the field for eight points. But since the Bulls grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, they got some of those shots back.
Ex-Bull Drew Gooden scored 23 points (10-10 from the line) and added 15 rebounds, to prove that the journey-man still has some solid games left in him.
The Bulls let rookie Jon Leuer score 19 points (9-11)…all in the second half. Leuer played 20 minutes against Chicago. He has played 24 minutes in the four games since. He averaged two points in those games.
That Milwaukee game was Chicago’s last home game. They don’t return to the United Center until Valentine’s Day.
Milwaukee feels right at home in their Bradley Center. The Bucks are 7-2 at home, allowing 93.6 points, while scoring 100.3. When they are away, Milwaukee is averaging 90.6 points and giving up 95.5.
The Bulls are 10-5 away, giving up 93.4 points per game.
Your daily Luol Deng injury update: Deng is a game-time decision tonight. Deng said before shootaround: “I might [play], I might. See how we feel. I’m going to go through shootaround and then go out there, warm up, and see how it feels.”
Let me state up front that I wasn’t thrilled with the Bulls’ defensive effort last night.
The Knicks scored 102 points and posted an Offensive Efficiency of 108.5, well above their season averages of 95.0 and 97.1, respectively. They also finished with an Offensive Rebounding Rate of 31.7, up from their season average of 24.5.
What’s more, the Bulls let Amar’e Stoudemire explode out of his season-long slump. STAT finished with a season-high 34 points on 16-for-27 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Stoudemire had a fantastic game…although it may be worth mentioning that he posted a game-low plus-minus score of -11 in his 41 minutes of PT.
All that said, Chicago still managed to pull out the win, no small feat considering the circumstances: Minus Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton, playing in Madison Square Garden, the second night of back-to-back games following an embarrassing blowout loss, their fourth game in five nights, midway through a season-long nine-game road trip.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We always say you got to find a way, and the good teams in this league find different ways to win games. Ideally, you’d like to count on both your offense and your defense.”
But last night, the Bulls did it on offense. They shot nearly 53 percent from the field and posted an Offensive Efficiency of 111.7. Their Offensive Rebound Rate was a solid 27.3 and they had a Free Throw Rate of 39.2 (and, ultimately, a 29-14 advantage in free throw attempts). Basically, the Bulls were scoring at will.
Especially Derrick Rose.
Fresh off being voted a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team, Rose scored 32 points (12-for-26) and dished out 13 assists. Derrick exploded for 15 of those points during the fourth quarter. He scored 7 of those points in the first 2:15 of the fourth via a three-pointer, two free throws and a 15-footer. Rose scored another 7 points in a 1:19 stretch by knocking down a 16-foot jumper, hitting one of his patented driving layups and then drilling a three on back-to-back-to-back possessions.
The only blight on Rose’s fourth quarter was a missed free throw with five seconds left that could have iced the game. Fortunately, Carmelo Anthony missed a desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer, allowing the Bulls to escape with the win.
Of course, Rose’s foul shots wouldn’t have been necessary if Ronnie Brewer hadn’t accidentally fouled ‘Melo with six seconds left and the Bulls leading 104-100. Thibs had instructed Brewer to foul if the Bulls were up by only three points in that situation to prevent the Knicks from tying things up. Only the Bulls were up four.
Said Thibodeau: “That was a mistake. And again, those are things you’d like to work on in practice. So it was a miscommunication on my part with Ronnie. Up three we would like to use [that strategy]. Up four we want to stay down and not react to a shot fake. And not put ourselves in position where they could have a four point play. So that was on me. That was a miscommunication.”
Still…pulling out the win was sweet. Especially, as I pointed out, considering the circumstances.
Said Thibs: “It says a lot about our team. For the most part, this team will play hard every night. The thing to me that was disappointing about the Philly game was just the turnovers. But I love the resiliency of our team. The resolve of our team. The bounce-back ability of the team. We got great leadership from Derrick today … and all our guys. The thing about this team is I think we have a team of leaders. It’s not any one particular guy, it’s a whole group of guys.
“I think we have guys that have great will to win. I think they play for each other. So whenever we lose we’re disappointed as a group. But we try to learn from every game both when we win and when we lose. I think every game reveals something to you. And you should try to learn and understand why you’re winning or why you’re losing, and I think this group does that.”
Added Rose: “[We] stayed together. We’re a team where in those type of situations, that’s when we come together as a team and just try to fight through it.”
That’s what these Bulls are all about: Staying together.
It’s obvious the team is really missing Luol Deng. And I’m not just talking about the numbers. I’m talking mostly about his stabilizing presence. Well, that and his defense. And his skill set. And, heck, the numbers too.
But they got by thanks to Rose and contributions from Carlos Boozer (16 points, 7-for-12, 9 boards), Kyle Korver (16 points, 3-for-5 on threes, 5-for-5 from the line), C.J. Watson (12 points, 5-for-9, 3 steals), et al.
As he walked past rookie Jimmy Butler in the visitors’ locker room, he couldn’t help but crack a smile. The rookie swingman had just polished off the best game of his young career. He scored seven points in 21 minutes of play. He played solid defense against New York Knicks’ star Carmelo Anthony and even managed to knock down a huge basket with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulls a much-needed cushion. The fact that he did all of this on the big basketball stage at Madison Square Garden was lost on no one. That’s why Deng and his teammates were so happy for the easy going Marquette alum.
“Jimmy!, Jimmy!,” Deng chanted as he ducked out to go see some of his friends.
It was nice to see the rook get some burn and make meaningful contributions. Heading into the season, I never thought it would have happened. Not because Butler doesn’t have the talent. It’s just that the Bulls looked too talented and too deep for the rookie to get any meaningful minutes. Injuries have changed that situation in a hurry. And suddenly Butler is getting clutch PT.
And coming through.
Said Butler: “It felt good. I think it felt even better to know that the coaching staff believed in me and my teammates believed in me to take on a matchup like that, so that definitely boosted my confidence and I just went out there and played hard.”
Added Thibodeau: “We’ve liked him from the start. We love his attitude and approach and the way he works every day, his demeanor. And we know he’s going to get better and better. The hard thing for him is right now, we’re not practicing. He’s doing a lot of individual work with the assistant coaches. … We have a lot of confidence in his ability and he’s already got a defensive mindset. As he gets to learn the league and the tendencies of the players and the teams, he’s only going to get better and better. But he’s got a very serious approach to the game. I thought he made a lot of big plays down the stretch for us.”
And Rose: “I’m not surprised. “Coach loves him as a player. He comes in, does his work. He’s very professional. Doesn’t bother the team. He’s a great rookie.”
And Joakim Noah: “I think he played great. He played [with] a lot of heart out there. He really affected the game in a lot of ways. His defense was great and he hit a big jump shot at the end. I’m real happy for the rook.”
Butler’s success, and the obvious affection and support he’s getting from the coaching staff and players, is yet another indicator (as if we needed one) of how good the Bulls’ team chemistry is.
It’s going to need to be to finish this road trip and still have the best record in the East.
Quote of the Night:
“Every time I step on the court, they’re coming at me. I love it where it’s a challenge like that. I’m not backing away from it, and I don’t want them to back away from it. It’s just ‘be on’ every night.”
Knicks Injury Report:
Baron Davis: out (back)
Josh Harrellson: out (right wrist surgery)
Chicago looks to rebound from a very underwhelming performance in Philadelphia, by going up the road just a couple hours north to New York City. The Sixers seemed to have everything working and everyone on the same page. It appears to be the opposite in New York.
The Knicks, who were thought to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference are 8-13 and currently in tenth place in the East. There is a lot of basketball left to play, but the Knicks have some serious flaws.
They are coming off a win in their last game, in which Carmelo Anthony returned from injury. Melo missed two games with various injuries, but came back strong against Detroit, scoring 25 points and more importantly helping the Knicks find their offensive mojo. As a team New York shot 60 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and 80 percent from the line. Their offense was working so well, that Melo even had six assists, tied for his second highest total this season.
Going into the Detroit game, the Knicks scored fewer than 100 points in eleven out of their last 12 games. This is not good for a team that can’t stop a nose bleed (Actually, the Knicks defense hasn’t been horrible this season. They are ninth in defensive rating thanks in big part to being third in opponent turnover percentage. Also, Tyson Chandler helps.).
Before this win over the Pistons, the Knicks had lost three in a row and nine of ten. It might have been good to get that win out of the way, as New York enters their back-to-back-to-back tonight against Chicago. They take on Boston and New Jersey during the rest of their stretch.
New York is coming in hot, while the Bulls are coming in at a chilly temperature. The Bulls lost an ugly game last night, and for the first time in a long time, coach Thibodeau waved the white flag. Rose, Noah and Boozer sat the entire fourth quarter. Korver was pulled with four minutes left.
And it should pay off tonight. Going into a back-to-back, Rose played 31 minutes, Noah played 27 and Boozer played 27. Those numbers are a lot smaller than usual for the Bulls going into the second night, especially for Derrick.
But the reason the Bulls sat their starters was because the game was out of reach—not the best feeling. Rose (8-17 for 18 points) and Gibson (4-6 for nine points, five rebounds and three assists) were the most efficient players for Chicago. But everyone else was off. Carlos Boozer (4-11), Ronnie Brewer (3-8) and Joakim Noah (0-3) all have a lot of room for improvement.
Chicago lost two of three to the Knicks last season. Early in the year, Rose scored 24 and added 14 assists, but Toney Douglas scored 30 off the bench to lead New York to a high scoring win.
The Bulls also lost to the Knicks on Christmas day. Derrick Rose has a ho-hum 25 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. But every starter for the Knicks scored at least 14 points.
In two games against New York last season, Boozer went for 26 points and 19 rebounds on Christmas day, and 14 points and 22 rebounds on April 12 (he went just 5-19 from the field in the second game).
With Chicago coming off an ugly loss, they should come out hungry. And they might get a boost by having Luol Deng return from injury.
That’s what happened to the Bulls last night in Philadelphia.
The 76ers showed no fear and little respect for a Chicago team that’s supposed to be one of the league’s true title contenders. They played smothering defense, holding the Bulls to 43 percent shooting and forcing 17 turnovers.
What’s more, Philly earned 29 points off those turnovers, many of which came easily in transition. To wit: The Sixers finished with 21 fast break points.
Philly also outrebounded the Bulls 43-37 and posted an Offensive Rebound Rate of 27.5 percent. That last stat is meaningful because the 76ers currently rank 29th in ORR at 22.4.
Mind you: The Bulls rank first in the league in Total Rebounding Rate.
Even worse, the Sixers posted a fantastic Offensive Efficiency of 108.9, even better than their season average of 104.4.
Mind you: The Bulls rank second in the league in Defensive Efficiency at 94.5.
Finally and perhaps most damning of all, the Sixers finished 17 of their 19 field goal attempts at the rim. That’s a conversion rate of 89.5 percent. Which is a large part of why they outscored the Bulls 46-28 in the paint.
Mind you: The Bulls rank second in the league in defending shots at the rim, with their opponents normally converting only 57.5 percent of their attempts in that zone (according to Hoopdata).
My point is this: The 76ers beat the Bulls to loose balls. Beat them to rebounds. Shut them down on defense while executing on offense at a better-than-normal rate, especially in close proximity to the hoop.
Playing poorly and losing is one thing. Being so thoroughly outperformed is another.
Sure, you could point to the absences of Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton, not one but two of the team’s starters. And you could also point to the fact that the Bulls have been playing undermanned all season.
But that doesn’t explain why other teams are playing harder and clearly want it more.
Yes, I said teams, as in plural. This isn’t the first time an opponent has shown more pure desire to win than the Bulls. It happened back on January 7 in Atlanta. And January 16 in Memphis. It happened at home last week against the Pacers. And it happened last night in Philadelphia.
Added Joakim Noah: ”We were a step slow tonight. [It's] disappointing. It was a big game. I wish we could have it back.”
If wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean, Jo.
Speaking of Noah reminds me…Rose (18 points) was the only starter to reach double figures. Carlos Boozer finished with 9 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Kyle Korver also had only 9 points despite logging 37 minutes. Ronnie Brewer scored 6 while going 3-for-8. Joakim managed only 2 points and didn’t convert a single field goal (0-for-3).
That’s not the kind of production the Bulls need from their starters. Not surprisingly, Boozer, Noah and Rose spent the fourth quarter handing out Gatorade and towels in team huddles.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”I thought our starters were so lethargic in the third. Quite honestly, if we had gotten it closer I was going to finish with [the reserves]. With the group that we had in there. Because they were fighting to get us out of the hole.”
Of course, Brewer and Korver are starters only because injury has forced them into that role. Not only do the Bulls miss Deng, and Hamilton I suppose, but starting Kyle and Ronnie weakens the bench, which is one of Chicago’s great strengths.
Still, none of that explains the lack of focus and intensity.
Said Rose: “[There's] no excuses. We’ve still got to go out there and play these games and put forth the effort. And tonight it was clear that we didn’t. … We were out there sluggish. The energy wasn’t there. I really can’t explain it.”
It’s something Rose and the rest of the Bulls need to figure out.
76ers Injury Report:
Spencer Hawes: out indefinitely (strained left Achilles)
Nikola Vucevic: missed Monday’s game against Orlando (hyperextended left knee/strained left quadriceps)
Chicago continues their long road trip, heading to Philadelphia to take on the somewhat surprising leaders in the Atlantic Division. While Chicago is in the midst of a road-trip, the Sixers are coming into an extremely tough part of their schedule.
After taking on Orlando on Monday, the Sixers’ next six games come against Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, the Lakers, the Spurs and the Clippers. That is a tough stretch, but if there is a positive to it, they play five of those six games at home.
Philly didn’t get off to the most impressive start to this run, but they got the win, which really is the only thing that matters.
The Sixers beat Orlando in a game that ended with a college-like score. This win over Orlando would have been impressive a year ago, but right now, who knows what it means.
The Sixers had three players in double figures, and still won the game. That’s right, just three. And those guys scored 14 (Andre Iguodala), 12 (Evan Turner) and 10 (Thaddeus Young). Philly shot 37.5 percent from the field, and just 52.6 percent from the line.
Surprisingly, they beat Orlando in both of these categories. The Magic shot 33.3 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from the line. There have been rumors that some high school coaches plan on forcing their players to watch this game rather than run laps, because they see it as a worse punishment.
But the Sixers are a good team this year. That Orlando game was probably one of their worst games of the season…and they still got the win. That sounds like something Chicago often does—getting the win, no matter how pretty.
And these two teams do have a lot in common.
It will be a battle of two of the most impressive defenses in the league. The Sixers are first in defensive rating (94.0), with the Bulls in a somewhat distant second (97.3). Philly also leads in opponent effective field goal percentage (.441) and are third in opponent free throws per field goal attempt. Chicago is fourth in opponent eFG (.455) and second in opponent free throws per field goal attempt.
And these aren’t just pure defensive teams; both have been good on offense as well. Chicago is fourth in offensive rating (107.8), while Philly is sixth (106.5). Philadelphia is first in turnover percentage.
But as good as Philadelphia has been in some categories, they’ve been horrible in others. They currently rank next to last in both offensive rebounding percentage and free throws per field goal attempt (Chicago is the top offensive rebounding team in the league).
The Bulls are coming off a win against Washington. Chicago won thanks to 35 points from a “crazy” Derrick Rose. Carlos Boozer scored 18 points on 9-16 shooting, to show us that he can still play basketball.
Boozer is like the winter weather in Syracuse. You never expect him to be hot, but when he is it’s great, and you enjoy the day. But it doesn’t happen a lot, so you never really get your hopes up. When it is hot though, there is a really good chance it’s going to be a great day. But enough of me complaining about snow…
While the Bulls still have their injuries, one player is finding his rhythm. Joakim Noah has five straight double-doubles and his last time out in Washington was three assists from a triple-double (Noah had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists). But more than that, the wild Noah that Bulls fans love (and fans of every other team hate) has returned. His energy and spirit seem to be back to form.
It wasn’t all good news though. The Bulls were outrebounded by Washington (44-40) and outscored in the paint by a huge margin (50-32).
This may not be a huge factor, as Philly is 22nd in points in the paint this season (38.0) and are coming off a game in which they scored just eight points in the paint against the Magic.
Last year, the Sixers took two out of three in this series. Chicago won the first game in a blowout, 121-76. Rose scored 22 points and added 12 assists, while Boozer scored 16 and grabbed eleven boards. Iguodala and Young were the only two scorers in double figures for Philly.
In the second game, Boozer went off for 31 points (14-19 shooting) while Rose scored 27 points and dished nine assists. The Sixers went off as well: Jodie Meeks scored 24, Louis Williams scored 20 points and Jrue Holiday scored 19. In this game Philly shot 56.3 percent and the Bulls shot 50.3 percent. Don’t expect these high shooting numbers this year against the stingy defenses.
Game three was more of the same. Rose scored 31, Boozer scored 15 and Deng added ten points and nine rebounds. But Derrick turned the ball over ten times. For the Sixers, Young scored 21 points and had seven rebounds off the bench.
So far this year, Philadelphia is 11-2 when they are at home, and allowing opponents to score just 81.2 points per game in the Wachovia Center.
Depending on how the seeding plays out, the Sixers could very well be a second-round playoff matchup for Chicago. Chicago struck first last year in this series, can they do the same on the road tonight?
Joakim Noah hasn’t looked much like Joakim Noah this season.
Last season, Jo looked like he was on his way to the All-Star Game. During 13 games in November, he averaged 15.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field. Noah had even unveiled a couple new weapons: an admittedly awkward but reasonably accurate 15-footer and a little hook he could hit either lefty or righty.
Then, in December, he suffered a thumb injury and he was never quite the same. He finished the 2010-11 campaign with averages of 11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals. His Player Efficiency Rating was 18.8.
It was assumed that, as long as he was healthy, Noah would be one of the best centers in the league this season.
He hasn’t been.
Joakim is currently averaging only 8.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. He’s shooting a career-low 47.7 percent. His PER is a reasonably healthy 17.5, but clearly something has been wrong, which has led to a lot of head scratching by NBA experts and Bulls fans alike.
I’ve heard people say he’s out of shape.
I’ve heard people ask whether he’s secretly injured.
I myself have wondered if some kind of super villain used a time machine to replace the 2011-12 Noah with the 2007-08 Joakim. And, yeah, I wasn’t totally serious about that. But still.
Turns out none of those theories were correct. The problems were in Jo’s head.
The slow start Noah endured to this season bothered him deeply. Uncharacteristically clumsy and spiritless, the affable Noah wasn’t, to steal one of his favorite phrases, affecting winning.
In an interview with the Tribune, Noah for the first time revealed the five-year, $60 million extension he signed in October 2010 and which began this season contributed to his struggles.
And there you have it.
Said Noah: ”Yeah, no question, I thought about that. Sometimes you feel like because you’re given so much money you’re expected to do things. That’s not the right mentality to have as a player.
“I have to play my game. I have to have fun out there. If I don’t, I’m not the same player.
“I’ve always been a player who reacts well to criticism and doubters. I feel my teammates were always behind me. But I knew as well as anyone how poorly I was playing. And not only wasn’t I playing well, but I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I wasn’t playing loose out there. I was playing tight.
“In the beginning of the year, I was overthinking a lot. I was going through a lot of things personally. I feel a lot more comfortable now. I have to stop overthinking and just play.”
As for the questions about his conditioning?
Noah continued: ”That’s what was so tough about (the slow start); I know I worked so hard in the offseason. It wasn’t a question of being out of shape. I might be in a little better game shape now. But I came to camp in great shape.”
Fortunately, his game log provides some evidence that the slow start is over. Noah has notched a double-double in Chicago’s last five games: 16 points and 10 rebounds versus the Nets, 10 and 13 versus the Pacers, 15 and 16 versus the Bucks, 11 and 11 at Miami, and 14 and 13 at Washington.
What’s more, Jo’s shooting 62.5 percent (35-for-56) over his last seven games. And during that seven-game stretch, his offensive rating hasn’t dropped below 117…and it’s been 144 or better three times.
I think the real Noah may be back.
And, as he told the Tribune, he plans to continue playing with an edge.
Said Noah: “You have to be that way because this basketball thing is such an emotional roller coaster. One day you’re feeling amazing because you played well and your team won. The next night, you lose and you play like crap. It’s definitely a man’s league. And you always have to put yourself in question. But I’m feeling a lot more confident now.”
That’s great news for the Bulls. Bad news for opposing teams.